The whole world is meeting in Montreal! Located at the crossroads between North America and Europe, Canada's 2nd largest city is actually much more than a simple mix of the Old and New Worlds. With more than a hundred nationalities, the Quebec metropolis is an amazing human patchwork, where colors, languages and flavors mix.
To feel the dynamism of multicultural Montreal, head for Saint-Laurent Boulevard, nicknamed the Main, and more particularly in the avant-garde district of Mile-End. World cuisines, galleries, boutiques and alternative cafes ... Welcome to Montreal, where travel is just around the corner.
The Montreal mosaic
America in French? Montreal is much more than that! With nearly 120 different nationalities, a third of its population born abroad and a hundred languages on its territory, the Quebec metropolis asserts itself as one of the most multicultural cities on the planet. A mosaic of traditions, cultures and languages.
Here, we speak French, of course, and the other official language of Canada, English. But not only… Italian, Portuguese, Greek, now overtaken by Spanish and Arabic, are languages commonly used in Montreal. Of course, the Office de la langue française ensures compliance with posting rules. But, this open-minded city also leaves everyone the freedom to be what they are.
To Montreal, cultural diversity and creative effervescence go together. The Quebec metropolis has become an extraordinary cultural crossroads, rich in the contribution of all its communities. No American-style ghetto, or even “ethnic neighborhoods”. The descendants of the early settlers scattered across the city, making each street in Montreal a unique… and creative mix!
Boulevard Saint-Laurent, the "Main" extended to the whole world
To take the pulse of multicultural Montreal, you have to jump on the 55 bus that goes up the boulevard Saint-Laurent, nicknamed the "Hand". This artery crosses the city on a south-north axis, separating the French-speaking East from the English-speaking West. A rather blurred linguistic border, moreover.
From the port on the river, the Main welcomed, from the end of the XNUMXth century, successive waves of immigrants. They first settled along the boulevard, establishing cultural centers there.
After strolling through the superb historic alleys of Old Montreal, take Boulevard Saint-Laurent which leaves from the Old Port. A hundred meters further on, an eastern gate marks the entrance to the Chinese district, which has existed since the arrival of Cantonese who came to build the Canadian railway at the end of the XNUMXth century. Stretching over a small quadrilateral around the rue de la Gauchetière, Montreal's Chinatown has a number of restaurants and shops specializing in Far Eastern products. Herbalists, tea stalls, noodle or dim sum restaurants, bookstores specializing in manga or K-Pop and massage parlors transport us immediately to Hong Kong or Bangkok!
Further north, between the Duluth Street et avenue du Mont-Royal, azuleijos and colored facades testify to the Portuguese presence. Brands like La Vieille Europe or Charcuterie hongroise are the heritage of East Europeans who came to the beginning of the XNUMXth century.
In the Mile End nearby, the synagogues indicate four generations of Jewish presence, mainly Ashkenazi. The Hasidic Jews settled on the side of the Bernard Street West and avenue du Parc, where it is not uncommon to see men wearing traditional clothes and curls.
Many other communities passed by the Main, in particular the Greeks and Italians who gave its name to the district of the Little Italy, unmissable for its shops and cafes that seem to come out of a Martin Scorsese film.
Further north, in Parc-Extension, Villeray et Saint-Michel, Greek Orthodox churches and social clubs rub shoulders with Indian restaurants and markets, and some streets have been nicknamed “Little Morocco”. As for the Haitians and South Americans, also present in the neighborhood, they give Montreal Caribbean colors.
Mile-End, the epicenter of cosmopolitan and arty Montreal
The mix of cultures and the creative effervescence are wonderfully expressed in the district of Mile-end. Located northwest of the Plateau Mont-Royal and crossed by the Main, this former English-speaking working-class suburb has become over the years the haunt of artistic and trendy Montreal.
Stronghold of the Jewish and Greek communities, the Mile-End is the district of the legendary figure of Anglo-Montreal literature Mordecai Richler (The apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz) but also of Xavier Dolan, the enfant terrible of Quebec cinema, who filmed in Les amours imaginaires. The group Arcade Fire was born there and singer Ariane Moffatt made it her HQ, just like the video game company Ubisoft.
Many artists praise the Mile-End for its galleries, including the renowned Simon Blais Gallery, its studios, its performance venues (Rialto, Cabaret du Mile-End) or its creative beehives, such as the excellent Clark center known internationally for its innovative exhibits.
With its air of little Brooklyn, the Mile-End is also a neighborhood where life is good. Take the time to stroll, on foot or by Bixi (the local Vélib '), along the streets Jeanne-Mance, Waverly, Fairmount ou Bernard. In fine weather, the typically Montreal staircase homes are bordered by flower gardens under the shade of hundred-year-old trees. It almost feels like a big village, an impression reinforced by the proximity of Mount Royal, where you can take beautiful bucolic walks in the heart of Montreal!
Beyond the living environment, it is the incredible mix of people, origins and lifestyles that make the Mile End so charming. Here, the hipster meets the Hasidic Jew in traditional costume, the very fifties hairdressing workshop next to the designer boutique, the ethnic restaurant and the trendy tattoo artist with a florist installed for three generations.
To smell the relaxed atmosphere of the Mile-End, go down the Saint-Viateur street, known for its bagels, second-hand clothes stores, convenience stores (grocery stores), organic restaurants and, above all, its two rival bars: Café Olimpico, which has become the meeting place for the trendy Mile-End, and the Social Club. Between the two, our heart swings ...
Little Italy, Montreal's dolce vita
Continuing north on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, the Little Italy succeeds Mile-End. The district owes its name to the first Italian immigrants who put their suitcases there in the 19th century.
Today, Little Italy is no longer sufficient to contain the large community of Italian origin of Montreal (more than 250 people). The majority of Italo-Montrealers now live in the neighborhoods of Saint-Léonard, Rivière-des-Prairies, Laval, and even Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, which also wear the transalpine colors.
But, in the minds of Montrealers, Little Italy still remains the historical “showcase” of Italians in Montreal. No doubt for the presence of local institutions, such as the Milano supermarket, the reference address for Italian products, or the Italian Bookstore.
Is it an effect of Latin glamor? Now, a hype wind is blowing in the district which attracts trendy and beautiful local people for its good mix of chic addresses (Hostaria, Kitchen Galerie) and safe bets, in a very dolce vita atmosphere.
A pillar of the neighborhood, the famous Caffé Italia and its fifties decor, is always appreciated for its ristretti and biscotti coffees as much as for its “football nights”, with match broadcasting in a thunderous atmosphere. Juventus, Inter? Choose your team and toast with the tifosi.
Another pillar of the neighborhood, the Pizzeria Napoletana (rue Dante) has delighted generations of Italophile gourmets. We go there with our eyes closed… Che buono!
At the Jean-Talon market, the colors of the world
In the north of Little Italy, the stands and shops of the Jean-Talon market, a must-see place to take the pulse of multicultural Montreal. On weekends, this market - one of the largest in North America - offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in Montreal's diversity.
Obviously, there are local products, which some market gardeners indicate with a fleur-de-lys (emblem of Quebec) on the labels: blueberries from Lac Saint-Jean, apples, maple syrup canes, wines. of ice cream, microbrewery beers ... But, since its opening in the 1930s, the Jean-Talon market is a meeting place between the culinary traditions of the city. The very idea of shopping has also been imported from Europe.
Today, you can find Italian dishes, from nearby Little Italy, but also Mexican, Arab, Bengali, spices, perfumes and flavors from elsewhere. In short, a real world tour that extends a few streets north of the market.
Indeed, on the other side of Jean-Talon Street, begins the district of Parc-Extension, another Mecca of multicultural Montreal. Take a walk around the streets Ogilvy et Querbes, where Greek and Indian businesses coexist. At Swadesh market (484 Ogilvy), the spicy scents transport immediately to Bombay and whet the appetite ...
A gastronomic world tour
To recover from your urban trek, there's nothing like a gastronomic trip. And in Montreal, it is likely to be in the colors of the world. Montreal cuisine is a melting pot where the influences of the city's various communities can be found, beyond the Quebec pillars of poutine, tourtière or Chinese pâté.
The Jewish community gave the Montreal table two of its emblems: the smoked meat, a smoked meat sandwich, served for over 80 years by the "deli" Schwartz's (3895, St-Laurent), and the bagel, round, ring-shaped bun baked in a wood-fired oven, which can be purchased 24 hours a day at Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur Bagel in the Mile End.
Another popular culinary habit is Portuguese rotisserie. Roast chicken stalls have flourished in Montreal, in the wake of Cocorico (3907, St-Laurent). To accompany absolutely with a nata, a small Lisbon flan.
Chinese and Italians are doing well. Between noodles and roasted duck, you will find your happiness in the Chinese district, where we recommend the dim sum of Kam Fung (1111, St-Urbain). On the side of the Little Italy, do your shopping at the Milano market (6862, St-Laurent), before tasting an authentic cannolo at the Alati-Caserta pastry shop (277, rue Dante) and an espresso at the Bar Sportivo (6804, St-Laurent). We could go on and on and on - and across the city! -, from India to Peru, and from Mexico to Korea…
Need a compass to get your bearings? We can't recommend enough Fitz & Folwell's guided walking and cycling tours, which are as fun as they are educational, which showcase the culinary contributions of the city's different communities, including tastings.
The gastronomic melting pot has become a source of inspiration for certain Montreal chefs, who concoct delicious fusion cuisine without hesitating to mix culinary traditions. We even tried a foie gras poutine created by chef Martin Picard from Pied de Cochon (536, Duluth Est)! Bold and particularly tasty, like the happy Montreal mix.
How to get there ?
Daily direct flights from Paris CDG with Air Canada and Air France. Air Transat also serves Montreal from Paris and provincial airports in season.
Bagels & co.
Fairmount Bagel: 74 Fairmount Avenue West. A Montreal bagel institution, cooked over a wood fire since 1949. Open 24 hours a day.
Saint-Viateur Bagel: 263, rue St-Viateur Ouest. The other temple of Montreal bagels, since 1957. Open 24 hours a day. Also 24, av Mont-Royal E.
Schwartz's: 3895, boul. St-Laurent. Another institution of Montreal Jewish cuisine, serving the famous smoked meat sandwich since1928. Count $ 7 per sandwich (hearty). For the record, this local heritage monument was bought by Céline Dion!
Wilensky: 34 avenue Fairmount O. Special Wilensky sandwich with mustard and homemade sodas since 1932. This Jewish deli seems to have remained the same, it looks like it came out of a Paul Auster novel. It's Brooklyn Boogie in the Mile-End!
Good dim sum?
Kam Fung House: 1111 Saint-Urbain. Wide choice of steamed or fried Chinese dumplings. Cantonese and Szechuan specialties. Count $ 20
La Bella Napoletana: 189, rue Dante. No less than 40 pizzas and as many pastas in this great classic from Little Italy! You can bring your own wine. Count $ 20-25.
Alati-Caserta pastry shop: 277, rue Dante. Sublime cannoli in this authentic pasticceria.
Bar Sportivo: 6804, boul. St-Laurent. No need to take the plane to find yourself in Italy! All you need to do is have a coffee in this bar, or go there on a football match night.
In the Mile-End
Cafe Olimpico: 124, rue St-Viateur O. One of the most famous bars in Mile-End, where to drink a good coffee and meet new people.
Club Social: 180, rue St-Viateur O. The great rival of the Olimpico, in the same street. A little less trendy, but just as nice.
Le Cagibi: 5490, boul. St-Laurent. Coffee, food, music, art. A whole program in a most diverse setting. Specialized entertainment every evening. Another good address in the Mile-End.
Casa del Popolo and Sala Rosa: 4873 and 4848, boul. St-Laurent. Between bar, tapas restaurant (at the Spanish Social Center, across the street), concert hall, daily DJ set, one of the top nightlife spots in the Plateau and the Mile-End.
Kem Coba: 60, Fairmount O. Massala Chai, strawberry-lychee or cardamom orange… We love this ice cream parlor run by a Franco-Vietnamese couple for its inventive flavors.
Galleries and art centers
Clark Center: 5455, avenue de Gaspé, # 114
Simon Blais Gallery: 5420, boul. Saint-Laurent, # 100
An event not to be missed: the lantern festival
Every year, from the beginning of September to the end of October, the Chinese and Japanese gardens of Montreal Botanical Garden are illuminated by oriental lanterns, composing superb light compositions inspired by the culture of these Asian countries. A wonder for the whole family.